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Where We Work & How

The Index Approach


A healthy ocean sustainably delivers a range of benefits to people now and in the future

With new approaches for applying its framework at multiple spatial scales, the Ocean Health Index (OHI) has made significant strides in engaging with countries around the world to develop assessments that help support decision-making, inform management and encourage policy in favor of ocean health. These engagements further refine the Ocean Health Index’s approach and are catalyzing its vision to create a global community of ocean health.

In 2013, Israel, China, and Colombia expressed interest in applying OHI at national levels. To identify the best method for small-scale assessments, the Ocean Health Index completed three case studies: U.S. West Coast (data rich geography), Brazil (long and ecologically diverse coastline), and Fiji (data poor geography). These case studies, in combination with lessons learned from countries developing their own assessments, have enabled OHI to establish a structured process and body of resources to facilitate the development of independent assessments.

In early 2015, the Ocean Health Index launched the OHI+ platform (+ = independent assessments), which provides countries with an array of customizable tools that stakeholders can use to establish sustainable management targets, measure and track progress, identify geographic and thematic priorities, and simulate management scenarios.

By focusing on the larger process and not only on obtaining findings, OHI+ enables policy makers, managers, investors and the public to better understand, track and communicate status of ocean health in their region to ultimately influence policy and management decisions at local levels. The Index has also produced a suite of virtual tools (data repositories, visualizers, and statistical analysis code) called the OHI Toolbox to help empower teams to develop assessments autonomously.

The Ocean Health Index’s goal is to support building local capacity of stakeholders around the world, allowing countries to apply the framework in response to their own unique needs while also contributing to strengthening the global ocean health community.

Over the past year the Ocean Health Index has expanded its reach by working with over 20 countries.

Countries in different stages of the Index implementation process

Where We Work

Currently, seven geographies are actively conducting assessments: Ecuador, the Baltic Sea region, China, Colombia, Israel, Canada, and Spain. Another group of countries is pursuing a longer stakeholder engagement process on the way to conducting assessments, which includes Peru, South Korea, New Caledonia, the British Virgin Islands, Hawaii, and Mexico.

This past November (2014), Israel became the first country to publish the results of an initial OHI+ assessment while Colombia announced its commitment to increase its Ocean Health Index score by 5 points by the end of 2018.

Read more – Colombian Leadership On Oceans.

The Ocean Health Index supports the independent initiatives of OHI+ assessments by facilitating stakeholder workshops aimed at local building capacity on OHI methodology and discussing pathways for aligning the assessments with existing ocean and coastal management efforts.

These workshops have proved valuable in allowing actors from diverse backgrounds (science, government, civil society, NGOs, private sector) to articulate their values and perspectives, discuss preferences and priorities and to gain a better understanding of the collection of different stakeholder activities.

Ocean Health Index Senior Manager, Erich Pacheco, speaks with local press at Index workshop held in Ecuador.

Pacheco presenting at workshop held in Ecuador in collaboration with SETEMAR (Technical Secretariat of the Sea).

As each country and region has unique needs, OHI+ has also proven a successful framework in its ability to adapt to different priorities and focuses. Countries developing assessments are doing so for a variety of reasons. First, many countries seek to overcome limitations of the global assessment (i.e. global data quality and absence, limited spatial scope of findings, and pertinence for local decision-making). Through national or subnational assessments, countries can focus on using local information and datasets, as well as engaging a diverse range stakeholders to establish sustainable management targets and relative goal weights that are more relevant to the local context. 

Second, OHI+ helps countries identify geographic and thematic priorities in the study area and the regions assessed, which allows decision-makers to understand where resources will yield the greatest cost-effectiveness. 

Third, the assessment process can be used to simulate how different management scenarios affect scores, the magnitude and types of changes, and effects of common management actions. This helps identify which management and policy interventions can be most effective at bringing a given area close to its management targets.

Fourth, some countries are developing OHI+ assessments to compare and/or complement other assessment frameworks, providing decision-makers a more comprehensive picture on the status of local ocean health. 

How We Work

In using the Ocean Health Index, there are three fundamental steps to the process: development, implementation and action. The Index has developed a comprehensive “task timeline”) detailing the phases most countries go through in developing an assessment (see table below).

The process is not strictly linear as many activities require ongoing efforts through multiple phases. For example, key stakeholders should be engaged along the entirety of the assessment, which increases the acceptance and usefulness of the study. Ocean Health Index engagements vary from country to country depending on the degree at which they want input and collaboration. However, in most places, OHI facilitates capacity building workshops and working groups and engage technical teams to provide management and scientific support throughout the entire assessment process.

Ocean Health Index Task Timeline

The Ocean Health Index’s vision is to foster the growth of a constantly evolving ocean health framework that integrates new science, approaches, and information.

By finessing its framework, the Index can continuously provide decision-makers with an easily understood and politically relevant tool that helps set priorities and take actions to generate measurable improvements in ocean health.